On the Friday the 13th that the pandemic really started to pick up, I was due to play in Dallas, about a 5 hour drive from home. 90% of the rest of my tour had already been canceled, but two shows in DFW remained. Because our government fails to provide even the bare minimum of service or guidance to us, I wasn’t sure what to do. I packed up the van and headed out – I made it as far as Lubbock before texting the promoter that I was going to stay home. He agreed and I made the short drive up 84 weeping most of the way. I identify heavily with the road – it’s corny as fuck to label oneself A Rambler, but I’m willing to admit that the term comes up in my inner monologue more often that I would like to admit. It was extremely difficult to let go of my regular tours, but I managed to adapt by diving deep into field recording, a practice that’s always been on the margins of my work but never central. The ramble became part of the work and the lines between art and life are further merged and blurred. I started a series of work that I called The Land Ethic, named after Aldo Leopold’s famous naturalist manifesto from A Sand County Almanac. My album Catalogs expands on the ideas that I started exploring with The Land Ethic.
SPRING SPRING, EDGE OF THE LLANO
For a while at the beginning of last summer, I had a lull in my work and responsibilities and I was spending afternoons driving around the Llano Estacado exploring corners I hadn’t been to yet. Two ideas came out of this: my journalistic series of field recording music The Land Ethic, and an opera exploring the canyonlands here called The Edge of the Llano. I quickly realized that the dominance of privatized land and my lack of institutional affiliation would prohibit a satisfactory exploration of the extensive canyonlands out here. I did manage to explore some of the Edge via an unkempt city park in Dickens, TX. I sweat through my white t-shirt almost instantly, the cool water behind a curtain of ferns helped. I don’t always expect lush flora on the arid plains. I regretting not bringing along my machete to help me access the deeper parts of the canyon. As factory agriculture continues to drain the Ogallala Acquifer, I imagine this spring will disappear like the springs that fed Bull and Lubbock Lakes, which have both been summer swimming holes active within not too distant memory. I spent several hours there gathering the sounds you hear in the piece. On the way home, I stopped at my favorite roadside barbecue spot for a to-go sandwich and about four seltzer waters that I downed before I passed through Lubbock. I’ll take you to both spots when you visit if you don’t mind the drive.
Stepping off the Caprock, me and Gretchen traveled south to Far West Texas over a few days just after New Years (the only holiday I respect). It was immediately following record breaking snowfall in Big Bend National Park, so access to the Chisos Basin was impossible. I always do the driving, so at the end of every day I made a list of everything that I could remember seeing from the driver’s seat and used that as the spoken text of the piece. I gathered the typical nature sounds, but also some amount of radio coming from over the border, as well as recordings from roadside buildings in various states of repair. Some of those recordings were activated field recordings and some of them I used as impulse responses the generate reverb that I applied to my prepared guitar accompaniment at home at Wind Tide. The long final section of the piece is a folded and layered overnight recording of a cold front coming in with synthesizer accompaniment.
INCOMPLETE DREAM JOURNAL
I don’t remember my dreams hardly ever. I keep a dream journal, but I can rarely eek out more than a couple sentences every couple of weeks. Sometimes I can grab them right upon waking, sometimes I’ll get a flash as I’m drinking my coffee. The text for this piece is every dream I’ve remembered since 2016, except where I was too embarrassed to read it in public. It’s interesting hearing so many years all at once. I can trace my anxieties and occupations and the people in my life. I don’t think I’m very funny, but I guess my dreams are. My favorite line is “I am phyiscally fighting South by Southwest.” The most difficult part of this piece was reciting the text in the precise pitch and timbre to make the combination of autotune and formant shifting activate in the manner I was after.
CACTUS HUM MESA
The recordings that make up this piece come from a couple of locations: Mesa Verde National Park & the small town of Cactus, TX. The text is a trail guide I found at the park that I modified through an oulipo method that I learned from my friend Adam Farcus. I found myself in Cactus for a few days, hired by the BBC to make location and interview recordings for a program on the town’s refugee and immigrant population brought there by the large meat-packing plant. I told them that I’m a musician and not a journalist, but I guess that it’s hard to find someone in West Texas fluent in audio recording and willing to spend time in a Covid hotspot in the depths of the pandemic. I was run off the grounds of the plant by security who demanded my “press identification” and got the know the principal of the local elementary school. In more ways than one, a supremely difficult but enlightening few days, and I managed to make a few recordings for my own uses. “Cactus Hum” refers both to the omnipresent hum of the plant that floats over the entirety of the town and the hum of the waiting area of the local police station that I waited in while the Chief decided if he wanted to be interviewed (He didn’t want to). My tendency is to leave people alone so my experience in Cactus is no doubt the end of my career in journalism.
10 UNREALIZED SCORES
Included in the physical edition of the album are 10 cards that each have a text or graphic score printed on them. I’ve been writing these simple instructions for pieces that are primarily meant to be realized as audio. It comes out of my thinking of how to continue to merge my art and my life and how to somehow translate the places I live into some kind of work without exploiting them. These pieces also come out of my thinking on the failures and successes of Land Art – a larger practice that I find myself identifying my work with more and more.
On a Different Note:
- Track-by-Track: Kieran Mahon – Eternal Return
- Track-by-Track // Ffion – Unfurling
- Track-by-Track: Grey Frequency – Paranormal
- Reviews – CSOIM/Blank Vids / Skyjelly / Dyr Faser
- False Awakening / Julian Iron Interview